Boston has had a pretty good run of being in the national news. First there was the historically snowy winter. Then there was the Super Bowl win for the Patriots, and of course the all-encompassing Deflategate story that followed. With the NFL releasing the results of its investigation in recent weeks, the story continues to dominate the local—and national—media.
On a far more sinister level, Aaron Hernandez, former Patriots standout tight end, was found guilty of first degree murder in April and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in May.
“It’s amazing how many national stories start in Boston,” says Paul Magnes, WHDH VP and general manager. “It seems like once a week, a big story starts here.”
Few markets are as well-equipped to tackle the biggies. Boston includes the largest-market stations for Hearst TV and Cox Media Group, a CBS O&O and a jewel in the Sunbeam TV group. Throw in two well-viewed cable nets and the Spanish-language stations, and ratings points are tough to come by. “I’ve always thought it’s the most competitive market in the country,” says Chris Wayland, former WHDH Boston GM and now executive VP/GM of Sunbeam TV, which includes WSVN Miami.
Cox acquired WFXT last October and has spent millions improving operations at the former Fox O&O; one rival says he used to see empty desks in the background of newsroom standups, but they now are full. The reporter ranks have swelled from seven to 17, says Tom Raponi, VP and general manager. He’s hired a sports director and set up master control and graphics, which had been handled at an external hub in the Fox-owned days.
Raponi made the move from GM at KTVU San Francisco and brought several department heads, including news director Lee Rosenthal, across the country. That so many agreed to make the move, Raponi says, “is one of the most memorable moments in my career.”
Hearst TV owns ABC affiliate WCVB and Sunbeam has the NBC-CW pair, WHDH-WLVI. CBS owns WBZ and MyNetworkTV-aligned WSBK, along with a batch of radio stations. NBCUniversal owns cable news net NECN and Telemundo station WNEU, which share a state-of-the-art new facility. WNEU debuted local news Aug. 17. “NBC has really invested in people and in infrastructure,” says Mike St. Peter, senior VP/GM.
NESN, home to the Red Sox and the NHL’s Bruins, is owned by Red Sox parent Fenway Sports Group and Delaware North, owners of the Bruins. Entravision has the Univision outlet WUNI and a joint sales agreement with UniMás station WUTF. Comcast is Boston’s dominant cable operator. “Money gets spread pretty thin in this market,” says Scott McGavick, senior VP at WUNI-WUTF.
Everyone is trying to figure out how to take down dominant WCVB. The station’s lobby features a jammed trophy case; this year’s prizes include a National Murrow and an NAB Service to America. Bill Fine, president and general manager, is extremely enthused about the station’s “5 On” initiative, which tackles pressing social issues in DMA No. 7. A series focused on the region’s opioid addiction crisis kicked off in June and is running for 13 weeks, including segments in the 4:30 a.m. EyeOpener newscast on through Chronicle at 7:30 p.m. and in the late news, along with PSAs and promos. It’s signature stuff for WCVB; Fine calls it a “solutions-driven” community initiative. “Honestly, it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” he says.
WCVB won nearly every key ratings race in May sweeps, including taking primetime over WBZ. WCVB put up a 4.7 household rating/10.7 share at 11 p.m., ahead of WBZ’s 3.5/7.9, although WHDH seized the adults 25-54 contest with a 1.7/6.0. WHDH thrives on a fast-paced, hard-hitting newscast. “It’s the pace at which people live their lives in this market,” says Wayland.
WBZ puts its stake in big events, including the marathon, the annual Boston Pops concert on July 4 and three dozen NFL games, including the Super Bowl next February. The station features a “Get Closer” brand. “Everyone wants a closer look,” says Mark Lund, president and general manager. “They want to know what’s going on, what’s behind the story.”
Sister WSBK recently extended its 10 p.m. news to an hour and will go from weekdays to seven nights this month.
Lund has worked in a number of markets and says Boston is unique. “The caliber of journalism is as good as any market I’ve seen,” he says. “Everybody here truly wants to win.”
PAHK THE CAH IN…OH, NEVER MIND
I took a drive to Boston to visit the stations. Heading south on I-95 from the Mass. Pike, a trio of antennas looms over the southern suburbs. I stopped at WCVB, a squat brick building just off 95 in Needham. Too bad it wasn’t a Friday, when staffers are treated to an ice cream truck visit. A few miles down the highway is WFXT and its open, stunning newsroom, where I talked baseball and snow, among other things, with GM Tom Raponi. I then ventured to Newton to see Mike St. Peter at NECN/WNEU, who showed me around their bright new facility. “It was just time for a change,” St. Peter says of the dated former digs.
The next morn, I popped in at WBZ on the edge of the city and watched live reports on the severe weather. I eyed the directions to WHDH before opting for a taxicab. The NBC affiliate sits in the lively downtown Government Center neighborhood. “We’re a Boston station,” says Chris Wayland, senior VP at WHDH parent Sunbeam. “We like that we’re in the city.”
I then stopped by NESN in Watertown, where I saw VP of marketing Paul Bermel and their Boston sports-loving bovine (above) before heading back to New York.